After expressing my opinion, I asked my European friend what he thought about our Saudi Vision 2030. He was careful to say that it was too early to make a judgment. “The Vision,” he explained, “is too huge to pass uneducated casual opinion on without giving it the proper study, analysis and time.”
I agreed, but still I requested his opinion. “I believe that you don’t have much of an option,” his answer came. “You are running out of oil and resources. If you continue at this pace, you may end up with no option at all. You can’t go on into the future without a vision — in your case a grand vision. Yours is one of the top 20 economies in the world. You lead the Arabs and Muslims. Your development plans are huge. Your commitments toward your people, region and the world are astronomical.
“Therefore, you can’t afford for your economy to lose any steam. It is like an express train going at full speed. Imagine the disaster if it loses track, direction or power. It’s high time you manage your resources in a way that allows for the train not only to go on, but, most importantly, to reach its destinations on time,” he emphasized.
“My opinion,” he adds, “is that this vision is a well-studied project that took tons of research and hard work. Is it doable? Yes, I do think so. Is it going to be done? I see commitment from the leadership like never before. I hope it goes down the chain to the middle management and all the way to the base. So, you tell me, Khaled, do Saudis have the same enthusiasm at all levels?”
I replied: “70 percent of our population is below the age of 30. They are thrilled. The Crown Prince speaks to his generation with the language they understand. He presents their hopes, dreams and frustration with the status quo. For long, they felt that their voices were not being heard. Women in particular felt their aspirations and concerns were not fully appreciated.
“Now, all this has changed, almost overnight. Not only are they heard, they are being invited to participate and lead. The average age of our ministers today is below 50. Women are taking their rightful place besides men in running businesses and government affairs. At work, a female employee equals two males in job localization percentage. Such generous rewards make companies prefer employing women.
“Mega projects, like NEOM, the Red Sea, Jeddah Downtown, Al-Faisaliah, Makkah and Madinah Development and Al-Qadiah, are music to our youth’s ears. They are about the 'wow factor' - futuristic ideas, dreams, creativity, entertainment, technology and modernity. For our generation, this means lots of business opportunities. We have observed our neighbors, like Dubai, making economic miracles happen in the past and we have wondered why we cannot do the same. So, you can imagine our happiness to learn that we can do even more. Our resources are much larger in every field, so what has taken us so long? The opening up of our economy, tourism, natural treasures and human resources to international investors and visitors is an overdue step in the right direction,” I concluded.
“Ok, then!” commented my friend. “I see no obstacles at all, except the natural learning curves and unexpected bumps on the long uncharted road. With your enthusiasm and belief in your destiny, you can easily be victorious. Others have done it, from Singapore and Malaysia to Hong Kong and the Emirates, so why not mighty Saudi Arabia?”
I asked him how the world sees our Vision from afar? He is here, so he sees things nearer and clearer, but what about overseas economists, investors, media, tourists and observers? Do they share his view?
His answer was clear and direct: “I believe the Vision has changed the world’s view of Saudi Arabia. The old concept was of an oilfield with rich Bedouins living on its income. Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman has projected a much different concept. The “wow factor” you mentioned is surely in. The world sees you now in dazzling colors. Adjectives like youthful, energetic, dreamer, enthusiastic, visionary, sincere and charismatic are among the terms we hear about the Crown Prince and his leadership style. His team of young men and women is similarly attractive and intriguing. They are showing a new face of a renewed ancient Kingdom. This in its own right is an achievement. The Vision is giving the country a contemporary, sophisticated, forward image. The accomplishment of a couple of mega projects will add confidence and trust. Just keep going - success will follow!”
This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette.
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi journalist and writer based in Jeddah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at Twitter: @kbatarfi